Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ruger LCP vs. Kel-Tec P-3AT

I finally got the chance to do it! I got to shoot a Ruger LCP side-by-side with a Kel-Tec P-3AT.

The first thing I noticed when you saw the pistols sitting side-by-side is that they are so close in looks, a person might confuse them in a dimly lit room. As you look closer, there are definite differences. But before I talk about the differences of similarities, I must say that I'm not going to comment on the stopping power of a .380 vs. a 9mm or a .45 ACP for that matter. This is a comparison of the Ruger and Kel-Tec pocket guns, not an article on stopping power.

What we will cover are the similarities, differences, accuracy and build quality (not in that order)

My friend Brian called me with some exciting news. His Ruger LCP finally arrived and he had picked it up from a local gun store and was ready to shoot it. As you may recall, when the Ruger was first released, it was so popular that stores immediately sold out. I read that there was a 50,000 unit back order though I can't confirm that that was true. What was true, is that if you wanted one, you had to get on a list and wait. Even some of the lucky people that actually got one early on, turned into opportunists and were selling them for double full retail...and getting it!

Brian was actually one of the patient ones that placed in order then patiently waited over two months for the gun to arrive (August 2009). Naturally, he was excited to give it a spin, but to his dismay, he couldn't find any .380 ammo at ANY of the local gun stores! So, he ordered some and after another painful wait, we finally got to shoot the thing.

As luck would have it, I have access to a Kel-Tec P-3AT (Click here to see my review) so I grabbed it and met Brian at the range. We quickly loaded both guns then decided on how we were going to do the test. We started by putting a full magazine though each gun to 'warm them up' and to get an overall feel. Just as I described in my review of the p-3AT, these guns are a pain in the butt to shoot. The tiny, hard plastic grips are really brutal on the hands. It's hard to shoot 6 rounds without adjusting your hold on the grip.

The Kel-Tec has a straight, non-contoured grip while the new Ruger actually has a thumb groove that I thought would ease the discomfort. It didn't. They felt about the same.

Both pistols have a 6+1 capacity. The Ruger weighs about an once more than the Ket-Tec. And both have a double-action only trigger.

After shooting six rounds through both pistols, I told Brian to help me with a blind shooting test. (the following was performed at an empty range and was carefully supervised). I closed my eyes and had Brian place one of the pistols in my hand, help me aim down range then swap pistols and repeat the trigger pull. Could I tell the difference? Well, yes. The Ruger had a much stiffer trigger. But to be fair, the Kel-Tec has had hundreds or rounds through it while the Ruger was right out of the box. So, that didn't really work very well. At least all of the bullets went safely down range. (This test was carefully monitored and I would not suggest anyone try it).

Second we tried an accuracy test. We placed my target stand 15 feet away and shot both guns at a 12" Orange Peel target. This is where things got interesting. Brian shot first using his Ruger and didn't even hit the cardboard and we were only 15 feet away! Hmm. I in turn shot at the same target using the Kel-Tec and hit the 12" adhesive Orange Peel target 4 out of six times and missed twice by about an inch 7 o'clock. Not too bad for a tiny mouse gun.

Next we switched. I shot the Ruger and he shot the Kel-Tec. This time Brian was all over the target. Nice shooting. But I had a hard time getting two solid shots to land in the '12 circle. Almost every shot was low. Very low. Not good.

My next test was to shoot while resting on the shooting table. Again, the Kel-Tec out shot the Ruger. I tried with all my might to use a good, solid trigger pull. I used every thing I've ever learned to get that Ruger to shoot dead on and it just wouldn't cooperate. It got close, but it consistently low and required a serious level of concentration.

One issue is the Ruger's sights. They are very hard to see. Since little back-up guns are not meant to be used for precision, target shooting, the sights are more of an aesthetic thing than a functional thing. Notice in the accompanying picture that the Ruger has solid black notched rear sight and a tiny (and I do mean TINY) black bump for a front sight (notice the front sight in the profile pictures). It's hard to really get a consistent sight picture.

On the other hand, the Kel-Tec's rear sight isn't notched but is painted bright white. The front sight is a decent little triangle that's also painted white. The correct sight picture is to set the white triangle on top of the white square making a little white "house". Overall, it you are using the sights, the Ket-Tec has sights that can actually be used.

These guns are meant for deep concealment, life-saving, close range, point-and-shoot situations. Nevertheless, you do want the bullet to travel in a predictable path that's somewhere close to the intended target. Also, knowing that guns like these will see most of their use at 10 feet or less, we pulled our target back five feet so we were within the 'statistical use' distance. That made all the difference in the world.

Instead of trying for precision, we tried shooting from the hip. The results were completely different. Both guns performed about the same. From the 'low ready' position, we would bring the pistol up and squeeze off two shots at our torso target 10 feet away, back to 'low ready', then raise and fire two shots again, etc. We were hitting the intended target 100 percent of the time.

As for build quality, the Ruger wins hands down. It's a lot more solid, the plastic feels and looks better, the metal is well coated (notice the metal in the top views of the guns). The Kel-Tec feels cheap next to the Ruger. Also, when pulling the slide back, the Ruger is smooth and solid while the Kel-Tec feels like a toy. Another nice touch that Ruger added is a slide lock. It won't auto lock after firing the last round, but you can pull back on the slide and flip it up to keep the slide locked back. A nice addition.

When the LCP came out, I REALLY wanted one! I passed on opportunities to buy a P-3AT waiting for the much anticipated LCP to come out. After shooting both the Kel-Tec and the Ruger I can't say that I would rather have the Ruger or the Kel-Tec. They both function as well as you can expect from a tiny pistol. Both have pros and cons. If you like the Ruger brand name, get the Ruger. If you think Kel-Tec is the way to go, buy that one.

There are times when it's hard to hide a Kimber Ultra Carry or a Taurus snub .38 and having a small caliber gun is better than nothing. Would I carry one of these guns day-in and day-out? No, but as a summer, pocket gun. I'd feel safer with it in my shorts pocket than nothing. And for the price, you can actually afford to buy one, even though the ammo is hard to find.

Ruger LCP Review

Kel-Tec P-3AT Review


  1. I carry a Sig Sauer P238 in my pocket. Similar in size to both of these guns, but a single action with a thumb safety. The small, 1911 type framed gun chambered in .380 has very little recoil considering it's size, and has full-sized night sights. The only downside compaired to the 2 pistols you reviewed is the cost, about double the price of the LCP. Anyway, I carry it everyday, and am very confident in it. I keep it in a galco pocket holster.

  2. Good review.
    I had 2 P3ATs and snapped up an LCP a few months ago when a LGS got a few in stock.
    I shot them side by side, and although I kept the LCP due to it's finish and let's face it, the Ruger name, I came to much of the same conclusion you did between the two pistols.
    I found the Ruger to shoot significantly low when using my normal 6 O'Clock hold sight picture, and I also found the rougher finish of the Kel Tec to be an asset if one were to have sweaty or bloody hands.
    The slide lock lever which I was really excited about, I found to be fairly awkward to use, and I don't have fat fingers.
    That said, either of these pistols completely disappears in pocket.
    At this point I still lean toward the Ruger, but I don't think it's worth a premium vs. the Kel Tec.

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  4. Please see:

    Designed for Ruger LCP; works with Kel Tec P-3AT, S&W Bodyguard, Rohrbaugh R9 and may work with other similar Micro-Pocket Pistols with or without Laser sighting.